Wildfires encircle Canada’s oilsands city amid hot, dry weather

Scenes from the 2016 wildfire near Fort McMurray, Alberta. A ring of fires has erupted around Canada's unofficial oilsands capital. (Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

(Bloomberg) -- A ring of wildfires has erupted around Canada’s unofficial oilsands capital of Fort McMurray, adding new threats to crude production from the world’s third-largest petroleum reserves.

Eight out-of-control blazes have been discovered just south and southwest of the city since Wednesday, Alberta Wildfire data show. Those add to the three burning to the north, where the region’s main oilsands mines are located.

A blast of hot, dry weather across Alberta in recent days has kicked up a series of new blazes across the province’s remote northern reaches, with almost a dozen surrounding the roughly 70,000-person city of Fort McMurray. While the new fires are still well outside the city’s limits, one fire to the northeast prompted Suncor Energy Inc. to curtail production from its 231,000-barrel-a-day Firebag oilsands site.

Fort McMurray, the largest population center near Canada’s massive oilsands operations, was devastated by a blaze in 2016 that forced thousands to evacuate and temporarily shut more than 1 million barrels of daily oil output. The city was partially evacuated in May because of an approaching wildfire.

Even after the recent flareup, Alberta is having a far milder wildfire season than last year’s record-breaking onslaught. The province has seen 690 fires this year, compared with 840 at this point in 2023. The difference in area burned is even wider, with about 183,000 hectares (452,000 acres) affected so far in 2024, less than a 10th of the total by this point last year. Temperatures are forecast to cool slightly in northern Alberta on Thursday after exceeding 30C (86F) on Wednesday.

The eastern, French-speaking province of Quebec — where a series of fires last year released smoke that darkened the skies over New York — currently has 74 fires burning. Natural Resources Canada is showing extreme fire danger in northern Quebec, but only low to moderate danger in most of the province. The province had about30 per cent fewer fires than usual in June.

In Alberta, wildfires are also posing a threat to gas output. Natural gas sites that produce the equivalent of about 30,000 barrels a day of oil have out-of-control fires within 10 kilometres, according to Alberta Energy Regulator production data.

With assistance from Mark Mann.

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.